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Minority report.

Just when it thought it had everything nailed down and banged up, with public opinion sated and tranquilized by victory and the Democrats gulping and backing away, the Bush Administration is faced by a series of unwelcome revenants. From the underside of national security politics--breeding pool of the Reagan-Bush strain--come nasty reminders of the way the Republican "revolution" got power and held it. The treason of 1980 is now a subject for everyday discussion. The nomination of Robert Gates to head the C.I.A., a nomination made during the hubristic flush of the post-Kuwait illusion, has compelled the press and Congress to take another reluctant look at the Iran/contra archive. Whack it over the head with a shovel, throw in a few spadesful of earth, walk away and claim "We've put all that behind us" and, damn, we forgot the quicklime.

Almost unnoticed in the surrounding rumpus, a small but salutary event took place in Washington last April 19. Through its embassy the government of Costa Rica asked for the extradition of John Hull. Now there was a man the Bush Administration really hoped had been forgotten. At one time, as the ultraconservative owner of a substantial piece of land on the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border, Hull had enjoyed a certain usefulness as the proprietor of a "deniable" airstrip. This made him a part of the Oliver North payroll and a senior member in the undeclared war effort against the Sandinistas [see "Minority Report," May 8 and December 18, 1989].

There is one rather awkward count in the Costa Rican bill of indictment against Hull. He is charged with murder, of course, and with a series of crimes against Costa Rican neutrality. In the world in which he operated, these offenses have something of a routine nature. But he is also charged with drug smuggling, a felony in the United States, which makes the folks at the C.I.A. and the D.E.A. and the F.B.I. and the N.S.C. and so on see red and pee green.

For the evidence that narcotics and other "controlled substances" (an absurd name for an absurd notion) have been instruments of U.S. foreign policy, you simply have to read Cocaine Politics: Drugs, Armies and the CIA in Central America, by Peter Dale Scott and Jonathan Marshall. This, one of the most enlightening books of the year, will redefine your usage of the silly term "drug war." When you see those two words from then on, you will think of a covert war financed by drugs. And that is as it should be.

Conservative though its new government undoubtedly is, Costa Rica still has an independent Parliament and judiciary. How will the Bush Administration explain its protection of a fugitive from justice, in a country that has an extradition treaty with the United States, on charges like these? How will it explain that Hull was introduced to the representatives of the North operation in the very office of then-Senator J. Danforth Quayle? There are days when it hardly seems worthwhile to keep whining about the half-baked coverups that have kept Bush and his crew a few steps ahead of due process. But it's cheering to think that there must be days when the effort of maintaining the cover-up seems rather exhausting as well.

Somewhere in Minima Moralia, Theodor Adorno remarks that it might be theoretically possible to produce a cinematic work of art in full conformity with the standard of the Hays Office, but this would be attainable only on condition that there was no Hays Office. In other words, no good work can be accomplished out of a sense of dull obligation. To name or define something as meeting a certain standard is to change the thing, as well as to alter the standard. For example, an emphatic sign posted on the edge of a canyon and announcing "scenic overlook" is self-negating. So is a signpost denoting "tourist attractions."

Not long ago I was actually paid to spend a night on business in the recently refurbished Algonquin Hotel in New York. Why do people visit the Algonquin Hotel? Because, according to reputation, it was once the scene of spontaneous wit and unforced conversation. The response of the new management, after a protracted period of costly promotion and redesign? Take the idea of spontaneity and truncheon on it. Grammar and spelling are alike pressed into this service, in the ghastly guest brochure that greets the credulous:

The facade and Edwardian interior have changed little; including the single manually operated elevator, the television sets that are hidden inside wooden cabinets, and of course, the hotel's famous lobby with it's lovely, dark oak columns and trim, wing chairs and chinoiseries [sic throughout].

Then of course "the staff is traditionally formed of 'oldtime' employees who love the hotel and take pride and always strive to make you feel like a guest in their home." True, the staff are very sweet, but the first half of the statement is absurd since they do not date back to the Roaring Twenties, and the second half is the sort of sicklines that any Holiday Inn might use in advertisement.

As for the clientele, or "celebrities" and "world-famous people," according to the brochure they ranged all the way from Dorothy Parker (natch) to "Ives Montand and Simone de Feauvoir just to name a few [sic]. So here is another triumph for the world of kitsch, where no effort or expense has been spared to make everything genuinely inauthentic. We learn that "Mr. Bodne's wife, Mary, even introduced Thorton [sic] Wilder to William Faulkner in the elevator, and James Dean used to eat there when he started out." I did not try eating in the elevator, keen as I am to be mistaken for James Dean, but I did get into the elevator and noticed a dreadful thing. Where once the buttons had read from one through thirteen, now they ran from one to twelve and were succeeded by "R." Had one floor been removed to create a roof garden, of the sort where Alexander Woollcott might have authentically bantered with Robert Benchley? The traditional servitor to whom I put the question averted his gaze. "Are you trying to tell me that the new management caters to people who won't sleep on a thirteenth floor?" He sadly agreed that this was so, adding that there was no stopping some folk.
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Title Annotation:John Hull's extradition to Costa Rica
Author:Hitchens, Christopher
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:column
Date:Aug 12, 1991
Previous Article:The costs of free speech.
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